Everyone has experienced blocked ears, also known as Eustachian Tube Dysfunction or ETD, at some point in their lives. It can often happen when air pressure increases, for example when flying. Some people may experience blocked eustachian tubes with allergies, a sinus infection or a cold. Here are seven things you need to know about Eustachian Tube Dysfunction.
1. What is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD)?
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction occurs when the Eustachian tube from your ear to the back of your throat is unable to equalise pressure. When pressure builds up in the middle of your ear, it can cause hearing difficulties, clogged or blocked ears and even pain.
ETD is a relatively common condition, and usually occurs in mild forms. However, if symptoms are ongoing or severe, blocked Eustachian tubes may require treatment by a healthcare professional.
2. Why do my ears pop and sometimes crackle?
This is the effect of your eustachian tubes equalising the pressure. Most of the time we are unaware of this but during flights or even going up a hill, the sudden change of pressure will make this clearing more noticeable. It may even temporarily feel like your ear is blocked or clogged.
The crackling sound is sometimes described as being like “Rice Krispies”.
3. I have constantly clogged ears and pain, what is happening?
An ENT consultant will test your hearing including a Tympanometry which measures the pressure your ear is at. They may ask you to swallow, and they will also check your Eustachian tubes with a fibre optic camera that’s passed painlessly up your nose. In some cases, they may feel that surgery is the best option to stop blocked Eustachian tubes becoming a chronic problem.
4. What causes Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction can be caused by swelling or a build-up of mucus which results in a blocked eustachian tube. Allergies, colds and sinus infections can all trigger ETD.
There are a whole range of conditions that can cause this, and some people are at greater risk. If clogged ears are an ongoing problem, you need to be referred to an ENT clinic.
5. I often have blocked ears, what should I avoid?
If you’re prone to blocked ears, try to avoid diving during episodes, as your ears’ inability to equalise in this situation could lead to a perforated eardrum.
Your GP or ENT will be able to advise you on this and look at your ENT system to see if there is an underlying condition that may be causing the symptoms of ETD.
6. Why do my Eustachian tubes get blocked and don’t equalise?
Blocked Eustachian tubes can be temporary if associated with a cold or a change in pressure such as being on an aeroplane. They can normally be remedied by your local pharmacy or by inhaling steam as you would for a blocked nose but, if they’re causing you prolonged pain or discomfort, it’s best to get checked by a GP.
7. How can I prevent blocked ears?
Like all things, prevention is better than cure. Some simple things can be done if you’re prone to your ears feeling blocked or clogged, especially during a flight:
- When travelling, use “Earplanes” which are single use earplugs that buffer the pressure changes which happen during an aeroplane flight
- By chewing gum or eating a sweet, you’re changing pressures in the mouth and moving the muscles which in turn activates the eustachian tube
- Nasal decongestant spray can help by using it half an hour before flying. You can also try to self-inflate the tubes by holding your nose and gently blowing, then releasing
Published on 13 January 2020